Finally, the Passion buzz is quieting. So, after weeks of avoiding the issue, Weblog will indulge—kinda. The movie is expected to gross more than $300 million, and rivalTitanic, Return of the Kings, and other blockbuster movies. Admittedly, there was plenty of talk, most of it negative, says the Chicago Tribune's Don Wycliff.

But it's more than publicity that has propelled this film, and some folks are catching on. Forbes magazine ran a series on Christians in business. Others have noticed that Christian books like Left Behind, The Prayer of Jabez, and The Purpose-driven Life have become bestsellers. Some were shocked at the marketing savvy Christians showed in promoting The Passion and the underground means of getting Christians to spend 40 days reading and discussing a book.

Well, the Technology Review has a good look. The culture war rhetoric that pits morality-obsessed Christians against the "liberated" rest-of-the-country is too simple, it says. Christians who reject a perceived valueless culture are not only refusing to watch television, or abstaining from movies. They're creating their own stuff.

Christian music is often the example in such arguments, citing Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, but the Review goes further. "Frustrated by network television, cultural conservatives have created their own animated series and sitcoms distributed on video. They have produced their own science fiction, horror, mystery, and romance novels, all of which can be purchased online. And alarmed by contemporary video games, they have produced their own—such as Victory at Hebron, where players battle Satan or rescue martyrs."

Shows like VeggieTales and Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey have done more than provide an alternative for Christians. They've contributed to prodding network TV to produce shows like Touched by an Angel, Seventh Heaven, or Joan of Arcadia.

So what does this have to do with The Passion?

"It's in that context that we need to understand the staggering success of The Passion. The Christians knew how to get folks into the theaters to support this movie." Forgetting that Christians did the same thing with the Left Behind movies, the Review explains. "Despite the presence of such a diverse alternative media culture, evangelicals do not live in some kind of protected bubble, sealed off from the rest of popular culture."

Such cultural engagement has been a hot topic, and, as the Review notes, it will certainly provide friction between those Christians who draw their morality lines in different places. But, more importantly, it avoids the us vs. them debates about society's morality. Sure, Christians oppose cultural disgraces such as the Super Bowl Halftime Show and applaud tighter FCC regulations. But with the diversity and sheer volume of media our culture consumes, we can't control everything. The piece says, "We can respond to that challenge with fear or with courage, with minds open or minds closed. The culture war rhetoric closes off discussion: its metaphors of sewage, pollution, or dead skunks imply that some forms of expression are indefensible."

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The piece notes the Christian movie reviewers who encourage engagement and discernment, eliciting some welcome praise. "What I respect about the Christian discernment movement is that it is educating people to make meaningful choices and giving them a conceptual framework for talking about what kinds of ideas get expressed through the media they consume."

It's nearly faddish in Christian circles to talk about "engaging culture," but it's nice to be reminded of the point of it all. It didn't take much salt to preserve a piece of meat, or a jar of vegetables when Jesus told his disciples to be salt in the world. And with culture war rhetoric continuing to heat up this election year, this is a welcome reminder that engaging culture ought to be more than reading books about it, but talking to friends and neighbors, producing videos, video games, music, literature, and someone will take notice.

More articles


  • Act of tyranny | What if a state legislature enacted, and a state Supreme Court upheld, a law forcing family businesses operated by Orthodox Jews to remain open on the Sabbath? (Terence P. Jeffrey, The Washington Times)

  • The challenge of religion reporting | Beginning on March 4, 2003, The Gleaner through a new two-page weekly product called Mind & Spirit decided to target seriously what is perhaps the single biggest niche in Jamaica the church-going public (Jamaica Gleaner)

  • Morality and trade | It's no wonder that religious believers, both liberal and conservative, find great fault with globalization. From Pope John Paul II to the Dalai Lama, from liberal Protestant ministers to anti-modernist Muslim imams, globalization has been condemned as a perversion of the concept of prosperity that "leaves very little space for values such as solidarity and altruism," to quote the pontiff. (Ira Rifkin, Baltimore Sun)

  • Pursuing justice one cup at a time | Congregations embrace fair-trade coffee, goods (The Washington Post)

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Popular Jesus:



  • Methodists to offer prescription discounts | The United Methodist Church plans to offer free prescription-drug discount cards to its members, and some churches may extend the benefit to other congregations (Associated Press)

  • Native Canadians seek ways of healing | With government aid, the villagers are trying to heal, mixing Western psychological tools with traditional religious ceremonies to try to draw a line on a history of abuse that they and social workers say has become a generational legacy that threatens to shatter their people permanently (The New York Times)


  • Tuning in to CrossTones | Boulder-based Christian radio show aims to bring music to followers (The Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.)

  • The heartfelt Mass of a humanist | Instead of being an act of worship, voiced by people together speaking of God in hallowed surroundings, the Mass in Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" becomes a text to be considered, even pummeled, for its truth by one person so that others may consider it for themselves (The New York Times)

  • Tackling two religious monuments back to back | The chorus and orchestra brought a compassionate yet unsentimental approach to two demanding works performed at Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall over the weekend (The New York Times)

  • Gospel singer Hammond gives rousing performance | Fred Hammond makes it looks so easy. Arguably the most successful black gospel artist to play Rockford in the last 10 years, Hammond struck just the right balance between polished entertainment and worship service when he performed in concert Tuesday night at First Evangelical Free Church. (Rockford Register Star, Illinois)

  • Jessica Simpson, the innocent | Simpson's religious upbringing shaped her early career, which began when she signed to a gospel label, recorded her first album, Jessica, and went out on the Christian youth-conference circuit. Other Christian labels passed on her, though, since they deemed her too "sexy" (she developed early). Then, when she was 17, Jessica went secular, signing to Columbia Records, which didn't object to her sexy girl-next-door image. (MTV)

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  • The big five losers from 'The Passion' | Rather than being a wild triumph for Christianity, The Passion of the Christ has created a long list of losers. Here are the top five: (Shmuley Boteach, Jerusalem Post)

  • Film stirs religious passions | Local clergy members reacte to controversial depiction of Christ, bloodshed (Wakefield Observer, Mass.)

  • Brazil religious leaders call "Christ" film violent | Jewish and Catholic leaders have criticised Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" for its violence after a special showing in Brazil, the world's biggest Roman Catholic country. (Reuters)

  • Quebec slower to embrace Passion | Lower box office. Ticket sales pale compared with U.S. and rest of Canada (Montreal Gazette)

  • Passion hits SA churches | The Passion of the Christ fever has hit South Africa. (News24, South Africa)

  • Religious leaders discuss Mel Gibson's 'The Passion' | Easily one of the most controversial films in years, director Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has garnered both positive and negative reviews from both secular critics and religious leaders. In Winchester, pastoral staff members have formed their own opinions and have discussed or hope to discuss the film with members of their community. (The Winchester Star, Mass.)

  • Post-'Passion' | 'The Passion' may have social significance beyond its cinematic value (The Free Lance-Star, Virginia)

  • Bishop sees spiritual merit in 'Passion' | The bishop of Brooklyn says Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" bears a "powerful spiritual message" and provides images that will forever shape how he contemplates the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. (New York Times)

  • Dialogue among faiths is healthy | Whether you plan to see the Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ," ignore it or mobilize your friends for or against it, the film is having one positive effect. It is getting people everywhere to talk about what they believe or don't believe. (New Bedford Standard, Mass.)

  • 'Passion' plays out in forum | BSU students react to controversy film Wednesday night (The Ball State Daily News)

Press coverage of The Passion:

  • National press coverage of Passion anti-Christian | After seeing the movie this past weekend, I am left with no choice but to say that what this movie has inspired is not anti-semitism, but anti-Christianity. I have seen more violence, more graphically depicted, on the Cartoon Network and the Discovery Channel. (Zec Austin, The Toccoa Record, Georgia)

  • Are we one-sided on `The Passion'? | Here's a movie that in less than two weeks in release exceeded $200 million in box-office receipts, putting it into a charmed circle that only the most profitable--and presumably popular--movies enter. It shouldn't have been hard to find some articulate person who had kind things to say about it in print. (Don Wycliff, Chicago Tribune)

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Passion sales:

  • Analysis: Can 'Passion' top 'Titanic'? | There is serious speculation in Hollywood about the possibility that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" could become the biggest box-office attraction of all time. In the two weeks since its release, Gibson's telling of the Gospel story of the torture and death of Jesus has grossed more than $214 million domestically. That puts it more than one-third along the way to catching "Titanic," which grossed $603 million in North America in 1997. (Pat Nason, UPI)

  • Sales figures for 'Passion' suggest many see it twice | By the time a film reaches the $200 million mark, it is thriving via word of mouth, what Dergarabedian calls "the water-cooler effect.'' This seems especially true of "The Passion of the Christ,'' which has generated criticism of its graphic violence and depiction of Jewish characters. Some Christians want to see the film to be able to carry on informed discussions. (San Francisco Chronicle)


  • Remember, it's only a movie | What Jewish leaders who condemn this film are doing is taking attention away from the real problem of anti-Semitism that we should be fighting together. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League noted months before the film's release a substantial rise in anti-Semitic attacks against synagogues. Do we really think devout Christians were behind those attacks? Was Gibson's film, not even released yet, to blame for those acts of hatred? (Peter Van Breda, Seattle Post Intelligencer)

  • Hypocrisy and anti-Semitism | I have not seen Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ," and it is doubtful that I will. Nevertheless, after reading everything I could about the movie, I would like to say something about it. (Yossi Sarid, Ha'aretz)

  • The Rabbi's review: Challenging the historical accuracy of a film on final hours of Christ | Mothing in my personal experience as a Rabbi or a movie-goer can even begin to capture the unprecedented extent of gratuitous violence as depicted in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." This film has raised the bar of gore and mayhem to a new and obscene level, and has demonstrated that there is no end to the appetite for horrific and disgusting carnage, especially in the mind and heart of people like Mel Gibson. (Wakefield Observer, Mass.)

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  • John D. Alexander: Are the Gospels really anti-Semitic? | It is important to acknowledge at the outset the validity of Jewish concerns over dramatic portrayals of the death of Christ. At so many times in history, Christians have written and performed Passion plays with the express purpose of stirring up hatred of local Jewish communities. In many places, Jews have had good reason to stay indoors during the Christian observance of Holy Week, in fear for their lives and property. (John D. Alexander, Providence Journal)


Missions and ministry:

  • Bible study groups go public | Bible studies are not just for homes and churches anymore (Marshfield News-Herald, Wis.)

  • Christian Bible "smuggler" released after 3 years in prison | "I will keep working for the Lord", says 46 year-old Protestant activist, Yu Zhudi, who was released after 3 years in prison on charges of secretly distributing copies of bibles in southeast China (AsiaNews, Italy)

  • Guiding hand | The Rev. Joseph Kelly came to Hoopers Island as a pastor. But after Isabel, he was called to other, more earthly, tasks (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Radical Christ Ministries builds a global Christian community | Two devout Waterloo Christians have pooled their faith and Web-design talent to build an online, nondenominational Christian community called Radical Christ Ministries (Waterloo Courier, Ia.)

  • Nunavut leader challenges Ottawa | An evangelical Christian, Curley also suggested during the campaign that the government under Okalik had abandoned traditional Inuit values by including protection for gays and lesbians in Nunavut's Human Rights Act, passed last fall (Toronto Star)

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  • Pentecostals set up church among the Inuit | Canadian Press has reported that after years of patient work, fundamentalist religious leaders across the eastern Arctic are about to join hands with their rapidly growing flocks to form a new church that combines charismatic Christianity with Inuit cultural pride (Religion News Service)


  • A man of many avocations, all rooted in family, faith | Mac Gray never went out without his Palm Pilot or his digital camera, at least two Bibles and a few religious tracts. He was a part-time evangelist, and always ready, said his son Mike, "to lead people to Jesus." (The Washington Post)

  • Where strippers held sway, now the gospel does | An Atlanta strip club that made headlines a few years back for inspiring a goodly number of the seven deadly sins now offers inspiration of a different kind (The New York Times)

Campus free speech:

  • Students say conservatives being heard | Groups at UNC, Duke comment on political proclivities on campus (Associated Press)

  • Also: Defender of religious speech goes to bat for Univ. of North Carolina student | A U.S. congressman is defending a Christian student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who was singled out by a professor for saying he opposed homosexuality on biblical grounds (Agape Press)

  • Also: Jones addresses rights amid protests | A meeting of the UNC College Republicans on Monday night featuring a U.S. congressman resulted in heated discussions of homophobia in the classroom and a protest by several dozen students (The Daily Tar Heel, UNC)

  • Princeton's passion: A campus event. | If most of the panel wanted to dismiss The Passion of the Christ as bigoted plebeian trash, many students held a radically different view. Unlike those of their professors' generation, today's students are increasingly willing to give faith a chance in the marketplace of ideas. (Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky, National Review Online)


  • Frankenmuth still studying Bible class | Would adding an elective Bible class expose the Frankenmuth School District to lawsuits? (The Saginaw News, Mich.)

  • Mottos in schools fire up debate | Bill would test church-state separation, some critics say (The Newark Advocate, Oh.)

  • Boy's parents sue schools over Bible message ban | The parents of a fifth-grader at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Satsuma have sued the Mobile County Public School System and administrators, claiming that faculty stopped the boy from passing out Bible passages on slips of paper during his class Christmas party in December (Mobile Register, Ala.)

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  • Teen stripped of award | A New South Wales teenager has been stripped of her scholarship because only one of her parents is Protestant (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Spiritual aspects of ecology | John Carroll told parishioners at Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday that students in his class on ecological philosophy at the University of New Hampshire either revere him for his beliefs or castigate him for destroying their sense of the mainstream world. (Portsmouth Herald, N.H.)

  • Let us reflect, not pray, schools urged | The Lord's Prayer and traditional hymns are to be replaced by spiritual reflection and "person-centred discussions" under radical new plans to revamp school assemblies in an attempt to reach out to children turned off by organised religion (Scotland on Sunday)

  • Also: Religious reforms in schools don't have a prayer | Prayers and hymns will be replaced with spiritual "person-centred discussions" under new plans to overhaul traditional school assemblies (The Sunday Times, U.K.)

  • Church college up for sale | The Church in Wales is inviting offers from potential developers after putting its ministerial training college in Cardiff up for sale (BBC)

  • The bell tolls for the oldest Catholic school | St. Boniface, the oldest Catholic school on Long Island, will close in June after 147 years of operation (The New York Times)

School prayer:

  • Call off the holy war | Manatee School Board is using faith to divide the community (Editorial, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.)

  • Manatee prayer lawsuit costs rise | The Manatee County School Board has already spent more than $10,000 to defend its right to pray and legal experts say costs could eventually exceed several hundred thousand dollars if the case advances all the way to the Supreme Court (The Bradenton Herald, Fla.)

  • Couple hints at prayer solution | Steven Rosenauer, who filed a federal lawsuit with his wife Carol to stop prayer at school board meetings, said Monday he has contemplated ways to resolve the case (The Bradenton Herald, Fla.)

  • Addressing prayer in public schools | Whatever guidelines come from the federal government, those who wish to pray can do so silently in school or out loud during specific times (Shirley Hickman, The Porterville Recorder, Ca.)

  • Christian schools on financial rebound | Oshkosh facilities clear $90K debt, hire fund-raising director (The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wis.)

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Teaching Evolution:

  • Consider evolution and design | If Darwin's claim of "no-design" is scientific, then it is necessarily scientific to disagree. Further, if Darwin's claim of "no design" cannot be challenged, then it ceases to be a scientific theory and becomes an ideology (William S. Harris and John H. Calvert, The Kansas City Star)

  • Ohio likely to put doubts into teaching of evolution | On Tuesday, the Ohio Board of Education is expected to approve model science lessons - including a 10th-grade biology lesson with a critical look at the theory of evolution (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Ohio school board okays evolution lesson | The state school board Tuesday approved a lesson plan for teaching evolution that includes what critics contend is a religious theory "cloaked as science" (Associated Press)

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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